Buzz builds around Pence for Trump's VP

Buzz builds around Pence for Trump's VP
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Buzz is building on Capitol Hill for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to be Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFamily immigration detention centers could be at capacity within days: report Trump likely to meet with Putin in July: report DOJ requests military lawyers to help prosecute immigration crimes: report MORE’s running mate.

Republican lawmakers, some of whom have close ties with Pence from the more than a decade he spent in the House, say the battleground state governor could be instrumental in helping Trump develop the relationships he needs in Washington.

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GOP House members praised Pence, 57, as a proven fundraiser and principled social conservative they could work with to influence Trump in the Oval Office. 

Former colleagues say Pence, who started his career as a conservative radio talk show host in Indiana, is as skilled a communicator as the party has. 

They gushed about how he could help unite establishment Republicans and grassroots conservatives behind Trump, who has otherwise struggled to bring together a fractured party.

“I’d be dancing in the aisles,” said Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), who says he attended Bible study with Pence when they were both in Washington. “He’s one of the best we’ve ever had in Congress. I’d love to see Mike Pence be the guy. It’d be awesome.”

The clock is ticking.

Pence, who is seeking reelection to a second term as governor, would have to withdraw from that contest by noon next Friday, July 15, if he’s going to run as Trump’s vice president.

Polls show the Indiana governor's race is a toss-up between Pence and Democrat John Gregg.

But Pence has not ruled out being Trump’s running mate. He is being vetted for the position and the two met last weekend.

Pence campaign spokesman Marc Lotter told The Hill that Pence is “focused on being governor and working towards reelection.”

“Nothing has been offered and nothing has been accepted, but it’s great to be considered,” Lotter said.

Pence served in the House from 2001 to 2013. He led the conservative Republican Study Committee and rose to chairman of the House Republican Conference in 2009.

Trump, who does not have strong working relationships with members on Capitol Hill, has said he’s looking for an insider running mate to help him bridge the gap to Washington.

Other than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Pence might be the best remaining option for Trump on that front. Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOn The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending Senators hammer Ross over Trump tariffs GOP senator demands details on 'damaging' tariffs MORE (R-Tenn.) have taken themselves out of the running. Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnWhat the net neutrality repeal means Dem Senate super PAC reserves million in fall TV ads Scalise throws support behind Black, Blackburn ahead of Tennessee primary MORE (R-Tenn.) is seeking to tamp down speculation that she might be interested.

Trump is also reportedly considering Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the Washington Post reports, which would be a rejection of the conventional wisdom that Trump needs insider help.

“You need a balance to the ticket and I think he’d be a strong player,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the House Republicans campaign arm. “He served here. He’s served as governor. He’s solid in the social conservative circles, he’s from the Midwest and he knows Congress. Very articulate. He’d be a good pick.” 

Trump had a mixed day of meetings with members of Congress this week.

A closed-door session with House Republicans went smoothly, but Trump lashed out at his critics in the Senate, like Sens. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE (R-Ill.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and had a verbal altercation with Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake threatens to limit Trump court nominees: report Poll: McSally holds 14-point lead in Arizona GOP Senate primary GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border MORE (R-Az.), who challenged Trump on his past controversial remarks.

While GOP lawmakers like Sasse and Kirk, who's considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection, have vowed to never support Trump, Pence would give Trump instant credibility among others who might still be on the fence, lawmakers say.

“He’s respected by a lot of people who have worked with him, like I’ve worked with him,” said Rep. Dana Rorhbacher (R-Calif.). “So Trump has a number of good choices…but I would say Pence would be a very good choice.” 

This wouldn't be the first time Trump has turned to Pence. He courted Pence ahead of Indiana’s May 3 primary and hoped to win his endorsement.

"He's done a very, very good job as governor," Trump told CNN at the time. "I don't know if we'll get his endorsement." 

He didn't. Pence instead endorsed Cruz, who lost badly and dropped out of the race that night. But there doesn’t appear to be any bad blood between the two.

Now, Pence, an evangelical Christian, could act as a bridge to social conservatives who remain skeptical that Trump will be a trusted advocate on causes important to them.

Several top evangelical leaders remain on the sidelines, while others have offered only tepid endorsements or have said they’re not ready to lay their credibility on the line by encouraging their followers to actively campaign for Trump.

“A lot times people question where [Trump] is on the issues,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.). “He says he’s socially conservative but I think somebody like Pence…would actually solidify that for a lot of Americans and especially conservatives.”

Lawmakers said Pence passes the commander in chief test by virtue of having been the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Pence has deep ties to the network of conservative groups backed by the billionaire donors Charles and David Koch, potentially giving Trump a foothold in a powerful organization that has largely stayed out of the presidential race.

And as governor of a predominantly white Rust Belt state, Pence could be an anchor for Trump in the Midwest states that might represent the best path to the White House for Republicans.

There are downsides too. 

Pence bungled a controversy that exploded in Indiana last year over a religious freedom law that critics said legalized discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The episode drove the news cycle for weeks and sparked boycotts of the state just ahead of the Final Four in Indianapolis.

“His line used to be – ‘I’m a Christian, I’m a conservative and I’m a Republican in that order,’ and that’s exactly how he’s governed,” said Indiana Democratic strategist Dan Parker. “That’s why a lot of moderate Republicans in Indiana are not all that thrilled with his reelection.”

Earlier this year, a former top fundraiser for Pence, Bill Oesterle, left his position as CEO of Angie’s List to launch a group aimed at securing changes to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and stopping Pence from winning reelection.

Other Republicans, believing Pence buckled under pressure, are furious that he backtracked by calling for changes to the bill that he had signed into law only days earlier.

Penny Nance, president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian women's group, said the jury is still out on whether the episode would “dampen enthusiasm” for Pence among social conservatives.

“Social conservatives have known him for a long time, and unlike Donald Trump he’s a known quantity,” Nance said. “I think the religious liberty issue could have been handled better, but it’s not a disqualifier.”

Still, most of the negatives Republicans could come up with about Pence centered around the political risk he’d face by casting the Indiana governor’s race into chaos and betting his political future on Trump.

“I don’t know if it makes sense for him,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. “I think he’s likelier to be reelected governor than be elected Vice President.”